Tag Archives: autism

Tips For Parents of Children With Autism: Managing Difficult Behaviors

Managing any child’s ‘bad’ behaviors is stressful and confusing for any parent, but if that child is on the autism spectrum, it can induce panic in parents and meltdowns in their children. Add to that the difficulties with verbal communication common to many children with autism spectrum disorders, and it is no wonder that the stress levels of parents of children with ASD are often compared to combat veterans. That’s why we’ve pulled together a few tips for managing your child’s behavior – to help you stay calm and stave off the panic.

When danger is imminent, do not hesitate

If your child is acting in a way that is aggressive or harmful to others or themselves, seek help immediately. Sometimes what seems relatively harmless, like scratches on an arm, can quickly escalate to harmful wounds. Don’t wait for the behavior to resolve itself. Seek medical help first, if necessary, then see a psychologist or certified behavioral therapist. They can help you help your child to stop engaging in a dangerous behavior.

Find the “why” behind the behavior

There is almost always a reason for children with autism to engage in challenging behavior. Don’t assume they are acting out because that’s just what they do; they are probably trying to communicate something to you. Perhaps they don’t want to do what you asked; or maybe they are having trouble adjusting to an environmental transition or are experiencing sensory overload. They may want attention or even a snack. Look for patterns in your child’s behaviors and once you crack the code of the “why” it’ll be much easier to manage the “what” behind their behavior.

Respond to the “why,” not the “what”

When your child is being aggressive, wandering off, or injuring himself or others, follow these basic steps:

1)   Require them to complete some part of whatever they are reacting to. By helping them to finish one part of that homework assignment or cleaning up some of their toys, they will feel some form of accomplishment attached to the “why” instead of their aversion alone.

2)   Devise a system for them to communicate the “why” without the harmful behavior. This may be verbal, the use of symbols, a tablet device, or a less aggressive behavior.

3)   Reassess your demands because they may be overwhelming or inappropriate for your child’s abilities.

If your child is seeking attention, the steps are different:

1)   Stop the behavior but don’t give the attention. If they are acting out to get attention and they get attention, the aggressive behavior is only being rewarded and reinforced.

2)   Reward good behavior with plenty of attention. They will quickly learn that aggression = no attention while non-aggression = plenty of attention.

3)   Work together to develop healthier ways to communicate their need for attention.

If your child is acting out because they want something more tangible, the steps are similar but have important differences.

1)   Stop the behavior but don’t give them what they want right away. Try to get them to calm down a bit first and then give them what they want. Pacifying their desire may work as a quick fix, but it will only teach them that if they want candy, they will get it with aggressive behavior.

2)   Work together to find a better way for them to communicate what they want.

These are just some very basic tips for training your child to behave safely, without aggression. But we want to hear from you – please join the conversation by sharing below. What works for you? What doesn’t work for you?



Early Language Delays Change Architecture of the Brain

Language delays in early childhood are common to many people on the autism spectrum, but not to those with Asperger Syndrome. A recent study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex has found that these early language delays leave a signature on the brain, changing its anatomy.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge studies 80 adult men with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), 38 who had delayed language onset and 42 who did not. They found that the men who had delayed language as children had reduced volume of the temporal lobe, insula, and ventral basal ganglia (all key regions in the brain) and larger brainstem structures than the autistic subjects who did not have language delays.

They also found that current language function is linked to a specific pattern of grey and white matter volume changes in some key brain regions, including the frontal, temporal, and cerebellar structures.

Delayed language onset, a child’s first meaningful words coming after 24 months or their first phrase coming after 33 months is considered a subgroup of autism, but is one of the clearest and earliest symptom and cause for assessment of autism or other developmental delays.

Most scientific studies of ASD compare people who are on the spectrum to people who are not, lumping all the subcategories of autism together. Last year, the American Psychiatric Association removed Asperger’s Syndrome as a separate diagnosis from its diagnostic manual, but this study shows a fundamental difference in the architecture of Asperger’s vs. other autism spectrum disorders.

“Although people with autism share many features, they also have a number of key differences,” explained Dr. Meng-Chuan Lai of the Cambridge Autism Research Centre and lead author of the paper. “Language development and ability is one major source of variation within autism. This new study will help us understand the substantial variety within the umbrella category of ‘autism spectrum’. We need to move beyond investigating average differences in individuals with and without autism, and move towards identifying key dimensions of individual differences within the spectrum.”

“This new study shows that a key feature of Asperger Syndrome, the absence of language delay, leaves a long lasting neurobiological signature in the brain. Although we support the view that autism lies on a spectrum, subgroups based on developmental characteristics, such as Asperger Syndrome, warrant further study,” said Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, senior author of the study.

Dr Lai concluded: “It is important to note that we found both differences and shared features in individuals with autism who had or had not experienced language delay. When asking: ‘Is autism a single spectrum or are there discrete subgroups?’ — the answer may be both.”



Autistic Kids Are Just as Fit, But They’d Rather Sit

A new study out of Oregon State University has concluded that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more sedentary than their neurotypical peers. This small-scale study of 29 children, both on and off the spectrum found that the autistic children spent an average of 70 minutes more sitting and 50 minutes less engaged in moderate physical activity each day. The study also found that the children with ASD were just as physically capable as their typically-developing peers in terms of body mass index, aerobic fitness, and flexibility.

The fitness levels of the children were measured at the Movement Studies in Disability Lab at Oregon State University, using assessment techniques commonly used in schools cross the country. Activities included and 20 meter shuttle run that measured aerobic fitness, a sit-and-reach test that measured flexibility, and a test that measured handgrip strength, in addition to height, weight, and body mass index measurements. The only area where the autistic children were found to lag behind was in the strength test.

According to study leader, Megan McDonald, the results were surprising and encouraging because they showed that autistic kids are on par with their peers in terms of physical fitness abilities.

“That’s really important for parents and teachers to understand, because it opens the door for them to participate in so many activities,” she said. “They can do it. Those abilities are there. We need to work with them to give them opportunities.”

While she also says that the results warrant further study into why autistic children tend to be more sedentary when they are just as capable as other children, she also urges parents to make physical activity a part of their family’s daily routine. A walk in the park or bike ride every day can help to alleviate anxiety and foster a mind-body connection, while participating in an inclusive soccer team can help with coordination and social skills in addition to contributing to overall health.

Earlier studies have found that autistic people have a much higher risk of obesity than other people, and this sedentary tendency is most likely a contributing factor. Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices School in Brooklyn uses adaptive physical education in their gymnasium. This approach tailors fitness programs to each child’s particular abilities and needs.

How do you keep your autistic children active? What types of activities do they enjoy most? Do you have a hard time motivating your child to participate in sports or exercise? We want to hear from you. Please share your trials, tips, and concerns with us by replying to this post.



Pets Are Beneficial to Autistic Children and The Whole Family

Raising an autistic child is a 24-hour job that can be overwhelming and incredibly stressful. For many parents, the idea of bringing a pet into the home seems like an impossible notion that will only add complications, chaos, and the burden of unnecessary responsibility.  The right pet, however, can reduce stress for the whole family and have a therapeutic effect on the child with autism.

A recent study from the University of Missouri concluded that autistic children who have difficulty interacting with people are often able to form emotional bonds with animals. These relationships can provide unconditional, non-judgmental love and companionship that may pave the way for interpersonal bonding, as well as stress relief, affection, and a key ingredient for a happy childhood- fun.

“Dogs can help children with autism by acting as a social lubricant,” explained Gretchen Carlisle, study leader and research fellow at the university’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction. “For example, children with autism may find it difficult to interact with other neighborhood children. If the children with autism invite their peers to play with their dogs, then the dogs can serve as bridges that help the children with autism communicate with their peers.”

If you aren’t interested in having a dog, many other animals encourage social interaction. Many people find that their autistic children respond incredibly well to cats, as they are less aggressive with their affections and form deeply individual bonds.

Choosing the right pet for your family is a personal decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. You should take your needs and lifestyle into consideration. If your family enjoys an active lifestyle and want to include your pet in outdoor activities, a dog would be a great choice. If most of your time is spent indoors or you don’t have time to walk a dog several times a day, consider a cat, rodent, or reptile. If your child or anyone else in the home has allergies, be sure to seek out a breed that is hypoallergenic. Do research on different breed temperaments and visit breeders and animal shelters with your child before you bring one home.

Just like children, every animal is different. Not every child will benefit from having a pet, but when a child with autism forms an emotional bond with an animal, it can reduce stress for the whole family.



Iron Supplements May Prevent Autism

Low iron consumption during pregnancy can increase autism risk

The internet is flooded this week with reports on a new study linking low iron intake during pregnancy to an increased risk of autism. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, MIND Institute released findings that children whose mothers did not take supplementary iron during pregnancy, particularly mothers over the age of 35 with certain metabolic conditions, had a five times greater risk of developing autism.

Researchers analyzed data of mothers and children, both with and without autism spectrum disorders (ASD) gathered by the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study based in Northern California from 2001-2009. The information included the mothers’ diets and nutritional supplement consumption.

“Iron deficiency, and its resultant anemia, are the most common nutrient deficiency, especially during pregnancy, affecting 40 to 50 percent of women and their infants,” said Rebecca J. Schmidt, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences and a researcher affiliated with the MIND Institute. “Iron is crucial to early brain development, contributing to neurotransmitter production, myelination and immune function. All three of these pathways have been associated with autism.”

It is important for mothers to understand that the purpose of this and similar studies is not to blame them for their child’s autism, but to further understand how ASD is caused, can be treated, and maybe even prevented. It is stressful enough to be a parent of an autistic child without feeling personally responsible for causing the disorder.

There are many possible causes for autism, from genetic to environmental, but expectant mothers will no doubt want to reduce any possible risk for their children to develop ASD. Prenatal vitamins and iron-rich foods are always recommended for pregnant women, along with a litany of other dietary retrictions.

“Take vitamins throughout pregnancy, and take the recommended daily dosage. If there are side effects, talk to your doctor about how to address them,” Schmidt concluded.



Nutritional Therapy for Parents

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are developmental disorders that affect children by disrupting their ability to communicate and interact socially. To reduce a child’s symptoms of autism and improve social and cognitive behaviors in speech, parents can try nutritional therapy. This is because many children with ASD have reported to have allergies and high sensitivity to foods, especially gluten and casein. Children with autism, according to the theory, process peptides and proteins in foods containing gluten and casein differently than other people do and this difference in processing may exacerbate autistic symptoms.

Identify those food allergies as soon as possible can be vital to the developmental progress of a child with ASD.  Gluten (found in wheat, barley and rye) and casein (found in milk and dairy products), are important in caring for an Autistic child and is worth trying out as many parents have reported changes in speech and behavior after utilizing nutritional therapy.  Parents can seek allergy testing for confirmation or keep a food diary, and remove certain foods from your diet, to determine exactly what your child is allergic to.

Before going to the grocery store, you can make a list of what your child can have.  You can give pictures of foods the child can eat and have them participate in choosing the foods they would like to eat, that way the child gets a choice but the choice is within a list of acceptable food.

You can have the child with ASD help you cross items off the list while shopping with you. Or you can say the name of the item, point to the item, have the child hold the item or put into the basket so the child starts expanding their vocabulary via sight and sound. You can describe color of the apple, the texture as child holds item, is it a hard or soft object. You can make it a game where she has to help you find what’s next on the list, help you grab it off the shelf, and help you count how many items are left on the list.  Every moment can be a teachable moment that you can do with the child, and even thought at first it seem they aren’t getting it, keep trying, like all children they need lots of repetition and imagery to learn something new.

You can use stickers, stamps, tokens as reward for good behavior. Make sure the rules for earning the tokens are clear and consistent. For example: “Listen to mommy, calm voice, hands to myself.” Stay away from vague rules like “Be good,” and avoid telling her what NOT to do “No crying.” Then when she exhibits the behaviors in the rules, you reward her with a token and praise the good behavior you saw. You might say something like, “Wow, great job listening to mommy/daddy. You earned a happy face!” Once the child with ASD has all the tokens, the child can have a reward. This will help the child with ASD to tolerate the delay in getting what she wants, because she can see that she is working towards it. Here’s a simple example of what it might look like.



Important Questions to Ask Your Autistic Child’s Teacher

We’re about a month into the new school year, and for parents of children on the autism spectrum, getting the information you need about how they’re doing in school can be even more difficult than it is for parents of “neurotypical” children. This is partly due to the difficulties many autistic children have with communication in general, but also because their perspective on their social progress and behavior can be very different. 

Why wait for the formal parent-teacher conference where the teacher has limited time and is focused mainly on academic performance? Whether in an integrated or specialized school for autism, your child’s teacher should be happy to set up an informal meeting so you can get on the same page and get all the answers you need. For many parents with autistic children, it can be very emotional and overwhelming to talk about their child’s condition and progress, so we recommend being prepared with a list of questions. 

Does my child seem to like school?

Allow the teacher to respond with their honest opinion, but ask for specific examples. Be sure to share your opinion and experiences too, so that together you can form a more complete picture. If your child is upset every day when you pick them up, it could be because they are having difficulty transitioning from school time to home time, they could love school so much that they don’t want to leave, or they could hate it so much that they have been upset all day. This is important information for you to know. 

How is my child’s behavior in school?

Again, get specifics. If the teacher says your child is being disruptive, try not to be defensive. Ask how you can work together to provide consistency on behavioral issues. Ask for a list of class rules and school policies so you can go over them with your child and help prepare them for a successful day at school. Most importantly, discuss discipline. Ask how the teacher punishes bad behavior, rewards good behavior, and how effective they think those methods are with your child. Be sure to share what works for you at home. 

How’s my child doing socially?

If your child isn’t enrolled in a specialized school or special ed program, their teacher may not be fully aware of the social difficulties your child faces. If they are high functioning this can be particularly easy for a teacher to overlook, so ask them to look. Ask if your child has made friends and whom they play with at recess. Ask if they’re making eye contact or ignore direct questions. Because children with ASD are so sensitive to their environments, their social behaviors can differ dramatically from home to school. Get a clear picture, but also share your child’s “other side” with their teacher so they have a better idea how to relate to your child. 

How is my child doing academically?

Ask which subjects they have difficulty with and which they find more interesting. Just as with any child, you want to find out what you may need to work on outside of school and what talents and interests to cultivate. Find out how much time they should be spending on homework and whether they are handing in their assignments. 

How can we work together?

Find out the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher. If they prefer email, you don’t want to call them every day, but if they don’t read their e-mail you’ll only get frustrated. Make sure they understand that you are all on the same team with the common goal of giving your child the best foundation for a good education and life. It can be easy to establish adversarial relationships with teachers, but when parents and teachers work together, your child wins.



States Slow to Move on Mandated ABA Coverage

Months after the federal government passed legislation requiring states to include coverage of therapeutic autism services such as applied behavior analysis (ABA) in their Medicaid programs, progress is slowly being made. 

It was determined in July of this year that Medicaid programs nationwide must cover “medically necessary diagnostic and treatment services” to children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) including behavioral therapy, occupational and speech therapy, personal care services, and medical equipment. 

California is the first state to comply, issuing a bulletin to plan administrators September 15 explaining that Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, will cover evidence-based behavioral intervention services including ABA for autistic children up to the age of 21. Coverage is available immediately for those who qualify for the program and will be retroactive to July 7, 2014. 

Connecticut and Nevada are expected to be the next states to expand their Medicaid coverage of autism services in compliance with the federal mandate, but no official announcements or timelines have been released. 

Despite warnings from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) back in July that it would likely take some time to for states to come into compliance with new regulations, a class action lawsuit has been filed in Hawaii over the state’s failure to provide Medicaid coverage for ABA therapy. We will have to wait and see if this gets the gears of Hawaiian state bureaucracy to move faster and whether similar suits are filed in other states that are slow to comply. 

Navigating Medicaid and obtaining services is complicated and different in every state. Many parents find it much easier to obtain the right services and coverage with the help of local autism advocates and service administrators. Organizations like Shema Kolainu Hear Our Voices School and Center for Children with Autism, serving children in all five boroughs of New York City help parents with Medicaid service coordination, early intervention programs, evaluations, speech therapy, occupational therapy,  physical therapy, and applied behavior analysis.



The Best Careers For Autistic People

While unemployment rates are improving across the US, for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), finding and keeping a job can still be an elusive pursuit. Even though many people on the autistic spectrum have the necessary technical skills to complete a job’s duties as well as or better than their neurotypical peers, landing a job that lends financial security and personal fulfillment can be much more difficult. 

The transition from school to employment is exceptionally difficult for autistic people. Preparing for a career in a specific field while still in high school or even earlier, can make that transition a little easier and will also allow them to build their skills and experiences with a focus that will give them an advantage over other candidates. There are some exciting new resources available to help people on the spectrum prepare for and obtain employment. The International Center for Autism Research and Education, also known as ICare4Autism helps autistic adults ages 18 and up find the vocational and employment training services they need from semi-skilled to high-functioning individuals. To learn more about ICare4Autism’s Global Autism Workforce Initiative, visit:http://www.icare4autism.org/global-autism-center/comprehensive-autism-workforce-development-initiative/ 

For many autistic adults, the hardest part of any job can be the social aspect. Because the subtleties of social interactions and political positioning associated with most corporate careers can be lost on people with ASD, and adapting to changing situations and requirements can be extremely difficult for them, we’ve researched the best jobs and work environments for autistic people.

Of course, talents, skills, interests, and level of functionality are as individual as people with ASD, and should be weighed and balanced on an individual basis before choosing a career path. These are simply broad recommendations based on the most common characteristics associated with the autism spectrum.

Computer Coding and Software Testing: For the autistic individual who has an uncanny eye for pattern and detail, this is definitely an avenue worth pursuing. Several software companies now give preference to candidates with autism because they can be much better at these jobs than people whose brains lose focus or can overlook tiny syntax errors that translate into software bugs. These jobs also have limited social interaction and exposure to like-minded people. 

Scientific Research: They call it the scientific method for a reason – it’s methodical. High functioning autistic people often thrive on meticulous, repetitive activities that require objectivity and extreme focus. There are some aspects that some people with ASD may find difficult, like obtaining funding and managing staff, but lab work itself can be ideal. 

Working With Animals: Many autistic people have difficulty interacting with other people, but have a talent for relating to animals. Therapy dogs and cats (yes, therapy cats!) are becoming more and more common for autistic people because the animals have a soothing affect. Autistic people can thrive in work environments that have more interaction with animals than people, such as veterinary clinics and farms. 

Stocking Shelves: Whether in a warehouse, library, or retail environment, inventory is (usually) filed systematically. There’s not a lot of social interaction required and very little chance of unexpected obstacles to pop up. Once a person with autism understands the established shelving system, they can thrive in a position like this where their day can be very structured and they are free to go about the systematic execution of their tasks. 

Mechanics: Autistic people with good fine motor skills often excel with mechanical maintenance jobs. Whether motorcycles, cars, computer hardware, or heavy machinery, the ability to find the one loose wire or worn sprocket in a massively complicated schematic can be right up the autistic alley. This is also a field where social skills and graces are not a huge priority. Many high functioning autistics are used to their friends and family asking them to fix things, so they might as well get paid for it. There are excellent entrepreneurial prospects here too.

Data Entry: In the age of big data and digital marketing, data entry is a huge part of most marketing and corporate companies. Because it is repetitive, requires attention to detail, a systematic approach, non-social, and can often be completed via telecommuting, this can be a great way for people on the autism spectrum to earn a paycheck. 

Many people who have autism spectrum disorders have amazing artistic abilities or exceptional math skills. Obviously they should pursue careers that allow them to best apply their talents. For all people, though – autistic or not, the work environment, interpersonal communication, and structure should be considered just as important as the required technical skills and salary.



Broadway Goes Autistic

It can be difficult, if not impossible, for many parents of autistic children to expose their kids to a full range of cultural experiences because of their potentially disruptive behavior and other parent’s judgment and intolerance. This is why the Theatre Development Fund’s Autism Theatre Initiative is presenting an autism-friendly performance of Disney’s The Lion King on Saturday, September 28, 2014. 

The mission of the Autism Theatre Initiative is to make theater accessible to children and adults with autism and their families. The fact that tickets sold out in just three days shows there is a real demand for autism-friendly entertainment and family activities. 

“From the feedback we’ve received of the past seasons, this community is thrilled to finally have access to the performing arts,” said Lisa Carling, TDF’s Director of Accessibility Programs. “Not only do autism-friendly performances introduce the world of theatre to the person on the autism spectrum, but it allows a family to experience it together in a supportive environment with no judgments. The word is spreading as we are currently consulting with organizations from coast to coast on how to present autism-friendly performances. We thank Disney Theatricals for allowing us to present that first performance in 2011 and continuing to support the program so enthusiastically.” 

In addition to only selling tickets to the autism-friendly performances to groups that include individuals on the autism spectrum (at a discounted rate) to ensure an understanding, judgment-free audience, slight adjustments are made to the productions to make them more autism-friendly. Jarring sound and light cues are modified while strobe lights are completely eliminated. The theater lobby provides designated quiet and activity areas staffed with trained autism professionals to help make anyone who leaves their seats during the performance feel more comfortable. To learn about future Autism Theatre Initiative performances, vist www.tdf.org/autism.